All tagged History

Victorian Visions of the Future Say a lot about the Power of our Assumptions

Victorian visions of the future, in artists like Jean-Marc Côté and writers like Jules Verne, we see the tension between peering into the future, while embracing assumptions about how behaviour in our present will continue onward in time. If psychological research suggests that our imagination for the future is anchored in the same mechanisms that provide our memories of the past, perhaps we unable to escape the assumptions of our time. In the end, we may find the most interesting visions of the future by deeply understanding our past and present, in order to project forward how current behaviour might evolve and change over time. Thus, it is out of the seeds of the past and present that the futures emerges. Christopher Roosen Explores. 

Problem Solving is Complicated. Design is not the Panacea

George Washington died from an unknown malady in 1799. It probably didn’t help that profuse bloodletting was used to cure his fever. After all, bloodletting was a two thousand year old cure-all; a panacea used for many ailments. We have a history of turning ideas into panaceas. We’re probably doing it again with the practice of design. Design isn’t a panacea. To wrestle with the challenges of today we need to draw from everything we’ve learned as a species. Philosophy, science, history, geography, engineering, arts and economics (to name a few) all offer a powerful ways of engaging with our world. We need to be comfortable with the discomfort and ambiguity of mixing and matching many ways of thinking to suit our challenges. Lest we risk metaphorically draining the lifeblood with the single minded application of design as the only way of thinking about our problems. 

1,300 years of Entrenched Anatomical Thinking - Habit versus Creativity

It took 1,300 years for the anatomist Andreas Vesalius to challenge the ideas of the ancient Greek physician Galen. We hope that new creative ideas will make an instant impact on those around us. That they will sweep away ideas that don’t work or haven’t been validated. However, the reality is that we are creatures of habit. Both cognitively and socially, we build edifices around our ideas; to elevate, preserve and protect them. Creative thinking is therefore a challenge to the status quo. It breaks habitual assumptions and quests for change. 

The Bystander Effect. Remembering Kitty Genovese

Kitty Genovese was attacked and killed in 1964. Though later investigation has shown that reporting exaggerated the number of bystanders, her story remains the trigger point for an exploration of the bystander effect in psychology. Having read about recent attacks in Sydney and had my own bystander moment, I wonder what sort of world we are building with culture and technology that encourages us to glaze our eyes to the world, bury our faces in our devices and detune ourselves from those around us? Though recent research shows at least one person out of a large crowd will help someone in distress, maybe there is some truth in the bystander effect after all.

The Five Principles of Good Systems

It’s hard to know if something we make is good, yet it’s an important question. We keep building systems with parasitical business models, addictive personalities and long-term side effects. Classic performance measures, like business growth, make economic sense, but there are deeper social, environmental and cultural issues at stake. Instead, I propose a set of five principles, curated from the best of philosophy, history, economics, science and design. By evaluating the things we make according to a set of concrete principles we can create products, services and systems that are in balance with the world.

Cholera and the Power of Data Driven Insights

In 1854, John Snow demonstrated the revolutionary power of data driven insight when trying to understand and prove the cause of Cholera. His investigation is a powerful reminder that a thoughtful exploration of data can yield confronting new insights. Insights may need powerful narratives to explain them, but without the data, they are just rhetoric. 

Light: A Radiant History from Creation to the Quantum Age

In Light: A Radiant History from Creation to the Quantum Age, historian Bruce Watson, weaves a masterful story of our changing relationship to light - from the mystical to the quantum. In the end though, it is our hunger to  understand one of the most complex aspects of our universe, that drives us forward to even stranger insights. A reminder that even the most omnipresent natural forces has many secrets yet to reveal. 

Long Term Thinking

The Notre Dame cathedral is a perfect example of a generational project, taking many human lifetimes to complete. Its partial destruction reminds us of the importance of fortitude for long term projects. Many of the greatest science, art and engineering projects took decades to see outcomes. This is especially pertinent in our age of instant gratification. Christopher Roosen explores. 

Can the Internet Be More Than a Soapbox?

People are consuming dangerous materials in a desperate hope for medical cures. It’s an old problem, but I think the network technologies we’ve constructed make it harder for these sorts of ideas to be expunged. We’ve given edge beliefs the largest soapbox in the world. Instead of being brought out into the light of the day, challenged and deconstructed, beliefs are driven down deeper into the fabric of the internet. Christopher Roosen explores. 

Powerful Learning Comes From A Two Thousand Year Old Idea

Want to innovate education? Maybe focus less on educational technology and more on designing how people collaborate. In this spirit, I suggest we bring back the dialectic conversation. The dialectic is an ancient Greek method of learning that uses conversation to explore complex ideas. I think the dialectic a vastly under-utilised way of learning and I offer a small invented example of a moment of conversational learning.

A Lawn Story

The humble personal lawn, one per household, seem to be an intrinsic part of life, mainly because we don’t remember the choices and incentives that went in to making them that way. Strangely, our individual and personal lawns may be a powerful force of environmental destruction. We are caught in the grip of an irrational set of historical design choices.

Decay of Digital Data - A New Dark Age

We like to think that improvements in technology will create a world tomorrow that is better than today. However, we are rushing forward into a world where popular music videos are replicated thousands of times, but crucial windows into human life, legal decisions and precious research is lost. We are letting popularity algorithms and business models determine what is kept. It cuts right to the heart of our ownership over information and our responsibility to maintain it for the future. We’ve conceived this digital world of information as a system that we would manage with a top-down intelligence, but we’ve proven incapable of managing it well. 

Shopping Malls: When a Good Idea Met Opposing Incentives

The creation of community, which no doubt includes healthy commerce, was Victor Gruen’s original dream for shopping malls. This is not the same as the design of an inward turning space that encourages shopping as a means to an end. It just goes to show, the best design intentions only come into their own, when they align with the right incentives. Fit good intentions to opposing incentives and the outcome may disappoint you.

The Underrated Power of Procedure

There is evidence that organisational procedures restrict women’s right to express milk for their children. Want to change the world? Set aside technology for a moment and have a look at how organisational rules, procedures and rules impact people. Crucially, spend some time learning about the cultural norms that bend and twist how procedures are (or are not) enforced. These intangible things have hypnotic power on how people act.